There are a large number of non-desk jobs in a variety of industries that are growing and thriving and offering workers a direct path to the middle class.
- The economy continues to change rapidly, offering greater flexibility to people who do not want a full-time desk job.
- Many great occupations allow you to work outside or in a variety of locations, and provide intangible benefits as well as satisfying compensation.
- Workers want flexibility in their work environment, and the freedom to determine their hours and means of working.
Having a successful career does not require you to sit behind a desk and plug away at a computer all day. There are plenty of full-time jobs that allow you to work remotely, work from home or be "in the field" at all times. Some of these jobs – like telemedicine physician – still require an advanced degree, but many don't require even a college degree. For some, you can qualify for by getting a certification. In other cases, there is more than one route to success.
Sometimes known as a general contractor or project manager, these building experts spend their time at job sites, supervising building projects from start to finish. They have to be able to communicate with customers, architects, government and regulatory personnel, vendors, and construction workers. With a high school diploma and years of experience, you can become a self-employed general contractor, or you can go the college route and start with a degree in construction management, architecture or engineering. Glassdoor pegs the median annual pay at over $74,730.
The median pay is over $140,000 annually and the growth rate is projected at 3% through 2026. A college degree is helpful, but not necessary. You can start out in the military, or as a commercial pilot before getting hired on with one of the regional, national or international carriers.
Elevator installer/repair mechanic
This career pays almost $80,000 annually, and requires an apprenticeship sponsored by a union. Most are open to high school graduates, but you may need a referral and recommendation.
This profession studies how water moves across and around the Earth, an increasingly critical field, which is why there is a projected growth rate of 10% through the next six years for this career, which also can pay around $80,000. You will need at least a bachelor's degree (and as master's degree as well) in a science-related field.
"The U.S. workforce has gradually shifted to office-based work due to the rise of the professional services economy and productivity gains associated with information technology," Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.
According to Indeed.com and Payscale.com, here are some top-paying jobs that don't require you to work at a desk in various categories – none of which require a four-year college degree – and their median hourly salary.
- Dental hygienists: $35.99
- Diagnostic medical sonographers $38.49
- Respiratory therapist: $28.98
- EMT/Paramedic: $18.27
Construction and extraction occupations
- Elevator installers and repairers: $41.66
- Boilermaker: $31.22
- Rotary drill operator: $29.79
Installation and maintenance occupations
- HVAC technician: $23.20
- Electrician: $25.61
Green energy occupations
- Wind turbine service technicians: $22.26
- Solar photovoltaic installers: $16.88
- Landscape designer: $30.00
Miscellaneous nondesk occupations
- Locksmiths: $18.03
- Licensed Massage therapists: $21.76
- Travel guides: $19.23
- Plumber: $25.37
While they tend to pay less than traditional office jobs, nondesk occupations provide a variety of benefits. Haefner points to a 2014 CareerBuilder survey that discovered workers who don't work at a desk all day are two times less likely to complain about their work environment and significantly less likely to report being overweight.
The data for the analysis was provided by Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., which analyzes data from more than 90 government and private resources.
According to a more recent study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, the 10 most satisfying jobs (ranked) are
- Physical therapists
- Education administrators
- Painter, sculptors, related
- Special education teachers
- Operating engineers
Most of these 10 careers do not require that you spend copious amounts of time at a desk. Further, many of these roles have some flexibility about where and how one works, which is another identifier of job satisfaction, according to the study.
With the increasing demand for nontraditional work environments, even regular office jobs may become less bound to office environments soon. That flexibility that the Chicago study pointed to may be more universally available to professionals and office workers across the board. But for some people, the desk is a desk, even if it is at a cafe, and these less traditional jobs that offer the freedom to be outside, or move from one place to another (or to work hands-on), may offer the path to satisfaction, as well as better than median pay.
The gig economy offers newly created opportunities for income that didn't exist just a few years ago. The 10 Highest Paying Gig Economy Jobs of 2019 include:
- Deep learning/Artificial intelligence: $115/hour
- Blockchain architecture: $87.05/hour
- Robotics: 77.46/hour
- Ethical hacking: $66.63/hour
- Instagram marketing: $31.23/hour
Then there are platforms, like TAKL, Fivrr and Sparehire, that match small jobs with skilled freelancers. For some workers, the flexibility to spackle together a collection of gigs and side hustles provides the ultimate in job satisfaction, and the freedom to never commute to an office again.